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Master’s student finds unique way to diagnose health problems in cats

An MSc software development student at Queen’s University is graduating today (Tuesday 15 December) with distinction as well as an innovative solution to help cats with urinary health problems.

Despite having no previous experience in IT before enrolling on the Master’s programme Emma Malone gained the expertise to develop a prototype for WeeWeeCat for her dissertation, to help cats like her beloved Charlie who nearly died because of an undetected obstruction in his bladder.

Emma, 33, who is originally from Derry/Londonderry but now lives in Belfast, explained: “I came up with the idea for this project as I have two cats, both of which have experienced urinary health problems. It wasn’t until Charlie was very ill that I realised that the fact he was hiding and not using the litter tray indicated significant health issues. 

“I decided to focus on that for my dissertation, building a prototype using technology to monitor cat activity in their litter tray.”

The system Emma designed uses a radio frequency identification chip attached to the cat's collar and a reader attached to the litter tray. 

She added: “The system works by identifying which cat has approached the litter tray using the RFID and then infrared break beams inside the litter tray indicate if the cat has entered. This data is then transmitted wirelessly to a database. 

“This is coupled with a website system where the cat owner can set up customised alerts to be notified if their cat hasn't visited the litter tray the specified number of times per day. 

“If they noticed unusual activity they could take their cat for veterinary care to be checked out and hopefully any health issues would be detected early enough to treat.”

Emma, who had previously worked in procurement, has now secured a job with Belfast-based cybersecurity company Cynalytica International.

She added: “I had never done any IT before, so starting the MSc was a massive change in direction for me but it was a great challenge and I loved the whole experience. The support and feedback I got from my tutor made me feel confident that I could achieve the qualification.

“It was the cherry on top to find out I was graduating with a distinction.

“I’m now considering how I might commercialise WeeWeeCat as there is nothing like it currently on the market, although there would be a lot of work to do to get it to that stage. It may be another challenge that I embark on in the future!”

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